When I was asked to provide an article about developing Unity leaders regarding “communicating clearly,” I literally laughed out loud. If you have attended any of my workshops or retreats, it’s likely you’ve experienced my thirty-second exercise on how to prove 100% that communication is not possible. With my deep underlying belief system (BS) established and fully disclosed here, we can proceed with some interesting best attempts and practices at communicating clearly.
I draw upon some experts at Healthy Congregations, Inc. and the decades of experience they have spent to develop, train, educate and consult in growing thoughtful leaders for a stronger church.
To become a well-differentiated, mature leader, one has to accept the limits of human learning processes. We must also work to increase our own functioning through collaboration, innovation, resourcefulness, and create new ways of being in “old” relationships. This sounds easy enough; however, it proves very challenging at times even for the wisest among us.
When stress and anxiety are elevated, functioning decreases, and with it, thinking, reasoning, discernment, listening, the ability to look at self and to create another option. Imaginative capacities decrease and we most often resort to our default positions, ways and means as well as polarize our positions.
Focusing on one’s own functioning, while staying connected to others in purposeful, thoughtful, and broader ways, can indeed go a long way in communicating more clearly.
Here are a few correlations, followed by a long comprehensive list of “how to’s”:
Speak in Literal Terms vs. Interpreting
Example: Will you please ensure the front door is locked before leaving the building?
Interpreted: She doesn’t trust me. She thinks I’m dumb, irresponsible, and incompetent. He’s bossy, controlling and micro managing.
Respond vs. React
Example: Please set the alarm clock in the future. Reaction: You’ve triggered my learned helplessness. You’ve triggered my wounded young child. You’re demonizing me. You’re not seeing my divinity and Christ-like nature. You’re unaware of my great intentions to set the clock.
Response: How did my not setting the clock affect you? I’m sincerely sorry and regret it. What would make this right with you?
Response: What alternate approach do we need for the alarms that would ease this? What’s a better idea that works for both of us?
Keep a clear distinction between facts and feelings.
Example: He’s mad at me vs. he’s mad.
I’m broke vs. I have $35 in the bank.
You abused me vs. you yelled in my presence.
Listen Literally vs. Overtalking
Practices: Wait to hear a question from them before speaking. Speak only to the question without adding more.
Do not mistake a monologue for dialogue.
People are often looking for, or expecting, a space for a ten minute rant or vent session. Notice they are not stopping. There is no room for your comments, insights, and great wisdom. Stop trying to make room where there is none (then wondering why you’re exhausted).
Speak honestly even when it’s scary.
Give an honest yes or no instead of pretending, lying, making excuses, explaining or seeking approval from others, but only if you want others to be honest with you.
Clearer Communication Practices
Note to user: These tools only work when applied.
- Define yourself to others and stay in touch with them (especially if they disagree).
- Regulate your own anxiety. (Put the oxygen mask on you first.)
- Make a clear distinction between fact and feeling.
- Profess your own values and beliefs without attacking or judging others.
- Do not demand or expect that others should think, feel, or act like you do.
- Accept differences between others and yourself, especially with those in your close relationships.
- Take responsibility for your own anger, sadness, frustration, or distress without “displacing” it on others.
- Stop blaming or accusing others as the cause of your stress, distress, frustration or problems.
- Live by your own goals rather than by other people’s expectations of you. Be “who you’ve come here to be” in every interaction, regardless of the behavior or attitude of someone else.
- Refuse to will, coerce, or threaten others to take responsibility for you (or your pain, stress, and discomfort).
- Refuse to be willed, coerced, or threatened by others to take responsibility for their pain, stress, and suffering.
- Form open, one-to-one relationships with people. Avoid gossip, fault finding and collusion.
- Change thoughts of victimization to thoughts of what you can do, what is possible, or what options are available.
- Gain and allow space or time or another perspective to get a clearer picture of things.
- Contain your own reactivity to the reactivity of others. Regulate yourself. Pause, be present, and then proceed.
- Take a stand and maintain a calm, less anxious presence when speaking or responding.
- Stay connected to all parties, even in times of stress or disagreements. Avoid cut-off, withdrawal, and isolation.
- Avoid thinking that sees others as either/or; black/white; either good or bad vs. human beings doing what human beings do.
- Look at how you have contributed to the problem, breakdown, or misunderstanding.
- Accept anxiety, tension, and miscommunications as part of the human learning process.
- Stay in there, persevere, and be uncommonly motivated to see it through to a mutually beneficial outcome.
- Be willing to learn and grow. Be more intrigued by life, people, and tendencies.
- Accept the challenge of the mystery of life.
- Have a clear vision of what interests you and how you want to be in relationships and interactions in order to meet your own goals.
- Use a wider repertoire of responses and approaches. Be resilient and have more stamina for the times when it’s not easy.
- Allow time for things to process. Be patient and understanding with self and others, giving the time necessary for emotional processing.
- Accept silence, solitude, and standing alone as necessary sometimes in the big scheme.
- Focus on your response, instead of the nature of the person or challenge.
- Restore yourself before responding, reacting, or taking any action.
- Remember that your presence and functioning affects you and the entire system.
(Adapted by Rev Dr Martha Creek from Healthy Congregations materials with permission.)
One thing for sure, there is “grounded hope” here. With faith, we go deeper into these practices and apply them for our own sake, whether “they” do or do not. Clear communications make for an easier way. My liberation and freedom hinges on my application. Practice makes … progress.
“Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”—Ambrose Bierce